On November 2006, MSN music closed its service. The service was not successful at competing with Apple’s iTunes. Recently, Rob BENNET, Microsoft, announced that they will not deliver anymore keys after 31 August 2008.
Why would you need new keys although MSN music does not sell anymore new songs? MSN music sold songs to be consumed on a given computer. Thus, the license containing the decryption key is linked to the targeted computer. The linking uses unique characteristics of the computer, such as configuration, or hard disk identifier. These characteristics are sometimes called computer fingerprinting. Therefore, there are two legitimate conditions to ask for new key (or more precisely new license) for an already purchased song:
- The configuration of the computer evolved, for instance adding a new piece of hardware, or maintenance
- The consumer replaces the old computer and transfers her songs to a new one.
In other words, after August 2008, consumers will not anymore be able to listen to their legally purchased song if they change computer. Rob BENNET announced that Microsoft did not succeed to negotiate DRM free songs with studios. It is surprising that the merchant of the songs is Microsoft, and the supplier of the DRM technology is Microsoft. And Microsoft did not find a solution? Perhaps, it is a strategy of Microsoft to get DRM free content. An interesting question: is MSN music liable? Is a class action possible by fooled consumers?
Unfortunately, this story gives new strong arguments to the DRM opponents. The problem is not too much about the DRM. The problem is that the song is linked to a computer rather than to a “larger” entity. Would the song be linked to the customer rather than to her computer, this problem would be solved. Would Microsoft DRM be interoperable with another DRM, this problem would be solved.
An example of solution is the domain. A domain is the set of devices belonging to a person, or a family. Would the song be attached to a domain, it would not be managed by a merchant. Currently, two systems support domain based DRM: DVB-CPCM and Coral. Unfortunately, they are not yet implemented in consumer devices. This story may be a booster for these solutions.